Why medical researchers are so interested in possums - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Why medical researchers are so interested in possums

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Fatty liver disease is associated with obesity and Type 2 diabetes and can lead to the need for a liver transplant.

Now, at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, scientists have developed a tiny Brazilian opossum into a model for fatty liver disease in people. Since they're omnivores, eating plants and meat, they can be bred to have a genetic predisposition for liver problems, triggered into full blown disease by eating a diet high in fat and cholesterol-- just like people.

The important finding was just published in a specialty medical journal.

"We understand those mechanisms, we can develop drugs to intervene in the disease process very early so that the people never develop the disease," said John VandeBerg, the chief scientific officer for Texas Biomed.

Texas Biomed is home tom more than 2,000 of these possums-- the largest group in captivity anywhere. Knowing these animals can be managed to mimic such a growing human health threat, the creatures will likely be in demand by other scientists.

"This new discovery will create a great deal of interest in the use of this animal for research on liver diseases around the country and around the world," VandeBerg said.

Nationwide, up to 5 percent of adults have fatty liver disease.

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